Preaching Politics from the Pulpit on Left and Right

“Vote your values, not your pocketbook.”

“Vote your principles, not your principal.”

You want to hear something interesting? You see those two statements above? Both are things I have heard said by ministers standing in the pulpit, the first some years ago and the other this past Sunday. The strange part? The first statement was made by the pastor of the evangelical megachurch in which I grew up while the second statement was made by the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist church I have been attending for the last two months. And the two statements are virtually identical.

What does this mean, exactly? I have been puzzling over that ever since Sunday.

For one thing, it suggests that social concerns and economic concerns may be in conflict when considering who to vote for, and that when that happens one should choose social concerns over economic concerns. I actually agree with this idea. I would rather live in a country that was slightly poorer but had freedom for all than a country that was slightly richer but rife with discrimination.

But what does it mean that this is being stated in the pulpit, and in both conservative and progressive churches? The UU church’s statement of principles deals with things like equality and justice and gives the church an obvious progressive political flavor. In contrast, the National Association of Evangelicals offers a statement of faith that unites all evangelicals that is devoid of any discussion of politics. Having progressive politics is for all intents and purposes a requirement for attending a UU church. In contrast, having conservative politics need not automatically be a requirement for attending an evangelical church. And yet it is. Evangelical churches are by and large as dedicated to political conservatism as UU churches are dedicated to political progressivism. They both engage in politics, they just do so from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Evangelical and even Catholic ministers evoke fire and brimstone and the “God is watching” eternal consequences to the soul. In contrast, the UU minister encouraged us to think of the consequences to others – the poor, LGBTQ individuals, the third world where environmental catastrophe hits hardest. While the evangelical minister says “remember that God is in the voting booth with you,” the UU minister told us to imagine ourselves surrounded by the world community as we cast our vote. In other words, the conservative religious approach to politics is God-focused while the progressive religious approach to politics is other-focused. And I find that fascinating.

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